If you’ve spent any time with a guinea pig, you see they spend a lot of time snacking. They eat like it’s their job because it is! Why do guinea pigs eat so much? Because their digestive system and their teeth need it!
If you look at the food that guinea pigs eat, you’ll see it’s all very low-calorie food. Imagine how many vegetables you would need to eat in a day to get enough calories if that’s all you ate. This is starting to make sense, right?
But there’s actually more to this food frenzy than just calories. Let’s look at how a guinea pig’s body works and how their food helps keep everything in tip-top shape!
Why Do Guinea Pigs Eat So Much Hay
Guinea pigs need to eat a high-fiber diet in order to keep their digestive system moving as it should. Fiber = hay. It’s important that you're feeding them high-quality hay and that it’s available 24-7.
Their Digestive System Runs On Hay
Consider hay the fuel for a guinea pig’s digestive system. Guinea pigs have a very special large intestine that’s built for extracting nutrients from a diet full of vegetation.
The caecum is at the start of the large intestine and this is where you find lots of good bacteria that help break down all the fiber and release nutrients for your cavy to absorb. The bacteria is there only when they have a constant supply of fiber to feed on!
But here’s where things get really interesting. Some of the nutrients can’t be absorbed in the caecum. They can only be absorbed earlier in the digestive system.
But wait! You said that the nutrients aren’t released until they get down to the large intestine… So how will the cavy absorb it? They poop the nutrients out and send them back through their digestive system!
Yep, they eat their poop. Not all of their poop (that would be convenient for us parents). They eat just the nutrient-packed poop called caecotrophs.
I bet you weren’t expecting that plot twist when you asked, why do guinea pigs eat so much!
A Guinea Pig’s Teeth Are Always Growing
A guinea pig’s teeth continuously grow and it’s up to them to keep their teeth worn down to a healthy length. And it’s up to you to provide plenty of opportunities for chewing!
Chewing hay all day does most of the work to keep their teeth worn down, but other roughage and chew toys in their enclosure help ensure they’re getting their chewing job done for the day.
Guinea Pigs Need Vitamin C From Fresh Foods
Guinea pigs can’t make their own vitamin C, so they need to get it all from their food! A high-quality fortified pellet is great for filling in nutritional gaps but they should be getting most of their vitamin C from fresh foods.
And they love fresh foods! Here’s a list of some of the fresh foods you can offer them to get their daily vitamin C intake.
Daily vitamin C-rich foods:
sweet bell pepper
Vitamin C treats:
tomatoes (not the leaves)
apples (without seeds)
Some foods are high in sugar and should only be given to guinea pigs in small amounts as treats. While other foods (like leafy greens) are perfect for daily snacking!
What Happens When Guinea Pigs Don’t Get Enough Vitamin C?
A vitamin C deficiency is called scurvy. If a guinea pig gets scurvy and isn’t treated it can cause problems with the blood vessels, bones, and tissue in their body. Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency in guinea pigs:
less movement/feeling tired
difficulty moving around due to painful or swollen joints
signs of pain: teeth chattering, hunched position
A guinea pig with suspected scurvy needs to see an exotic vet right away.
What To Do If Your Guinea Pig Stops Eating So Much
You don’t need to worry about your guinea pig eating too much. As long as you’re offering healthy staples: Timothy hay, high-quality pellets, and low-sugar fresh vegetables. Guinea pigs do a great job of regulating themselves when given a proper diet.
What you do need to worry about is when it seems like your guinea pig isn’t doing their job of eating and chewing!
If a guinea pig stops eating they’re at risk of their teeth becoming overgrown which is very painful for them… and pain makes it harder to eat.
Additionally, if their digestive system isn’t being fed a constant dose of fiber it will slow down. What they eat (or don’t eat) also has a big impact on the bacteria in their large intestine.
These digestive problems can lead to GI Stasis which is a life-threatening condition for guinea pigs. If your guinea pig has stopped eating (or is eating significantly less) you should take them to an exotic vet immediately. Another sign of digestive problems is a bloated, distended abdomen.
Why Do Guinea Pigs Eat So Much?
In conclusion, guinea pigs eat so much because their food is very low calorie, their digestive system needs constant movement with fiber, and their teeth need to be worn down every day.
It’s their job to eat so they can stay healthy, active, and “popcorning”! All you need to do is keep the healthy snacks out for them and they will get to work.
We are not veterinarians, and none of our information should be construed as veterinary advice.
Before adding any new product, please consult your exotic veterinarian. If your pet is acting unwell and you have concerns for their well being, please contact your vet immediately.